The National Science Foundation (NSF) has released the results of a survey of the status of 611 scientific collections. The study was based on 147 institutions that have received funding from NSF since 1985. The survey, which was conducted in conjunction with the efforts of the Interagency Working Group on Scientific Collections, highlights the challenges facing biological, mineral, cell/tissue, and social science collections. One of the most pressing issues is a lack of quality staff, especially to process specimens. Half of respondents said that they lacked enough staff to meet their operational requirements. This has contributed to inaccessibility of the collections. Forty-one percent of biological collections have less than half of their collection physically available to professional researchers. Additionally, while most collections are at least partially catalogued, online data accessibility is lacking. Two thirds of collections have less than 75 percent of holdings online. Images of specimens are even less available online. Lastly, the majority of biological collections reported inadequate space for the collection.
The results were not all negative. Since 2000, nearly three-quarters of the collections acquired new specimens. Collections by researchers, students, and donations accounted for more than half of this growth. Although understaffing continues to be a problem, the majority of institutions reported stable staff size.
To read the report, go to http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2009/nsf09044/nsf09044.pdf?govDel=USNSF_80.